What is the significance of the title of O'Henry's story "The Gift of the Magi"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The title does allude to the three wise men from the Bible, kings that come from far away to bring the Christ child gold, frankincense, and myrrh: expensive and precious gifts to honor him. However, at the end of the story, the narrator says of Jim and Della, "Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are the most wise. Everywhere they are the wise ones. They are the magi." Therefore, the title of the story doesn't simply allude to the original magi; the title actually refers to Jim and Della Young because they are the magi.

The narrator calls them the "most wise" because they understand that nothing in the world is as valuable as love. They both sacrifice the thing they own that is most important to them to show their love for the other: Jim sells his beautiful watch to buy Della hair combs, and Della sells her hair to buy Jim a watch chain. Their gifts require sacrifice, and the gifts given by the three rich kings did not: that makes Jim and Della the real magi.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The title of the story refers to the three "wise men" or magi who are supposed to have come bringing precious gifts to present to Jesus at his birth.

O. Henry used this title because of the idea of precious gifts and the idea of wisdom that the title alludes to.  Jim and Della are trying to give each other what they think are the most precious gifts they can possibly come up with.  Unwittingly, they give each other an even more precious gift -- the proof of the depth of their love for one another.  As O Henry says at the end of the story, their gifts, and their reaction to those gifts, shows that they are truly wise.

So -- the title alludes to a story of wisdom and precious gifts.  O Henry's story is about these same things.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial